Monday, February 08, 2016

Reclaim Australia Rally drowns out counter protesters

Reclaim Australia protesters held their largest rally yet on Saturday in Canberra kicking of a wave of Anti-Islam demonstrations in cities across the world.

Canberra organiser Daniel Evans labelled it "preservation of Australia Day" and at the podium congratulated 250 "fellow patriots" for making the journey to the capital.

Saturday's protest was the first in a series of global rallies against the Islamisation of the West co-ordinated by German anti-immigration movement the Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamisation of the West (PEGIDA)

As the crowd marched up Federation Mall and flooded onto a Parliament House Lawn, split in two by barricades, a dubbed version of John Lennon's track Imagine came over the PA featuring the lyrics "Imagine there's no Islam".

Crowds cheered as Mr Evans shouted "we outnumber them and our voice is louder".  And on the day he was right.

Under the watchful eye of close to 50 AFP special response, canine and general duties officers there were less than 40 counter protesters facing the swollen crowd of Australian flag-clad Anti-Islamists.

The number of "Don't stop the boats, stop the racists" t-shirts paled in comparison to dozens of placards reading "Islam denies freedom" and "Anti-racist is a code word or Anti-White."

In his speech South Australian lawyer John Bolton warned of the risks of "Islamic barbarity" and fervently encouraged protesters to openly "insult and vilify Islam five times a day if you want to". 

He called for a ban on "Islamic face-masks" and stated mosques were a threat to Australian national security.

"I want more terrorism powers to our squads to do random searches of mosques," he said. "I want an Islamic Schools watchdog. There must be random searches of Islamic Schools to make sure they're not teaching Sharia."

Born and bred ACT resident and father of three Mr Evans said the position of Reclaim Australia was broadly misunderstood by the greater community.

"We are a multi-ethnic country but we have one culture, Australian culture," he said.

"I'm not against Muslims. I'm against the ideology of Islam. We have extremists here preaching hate. These are the ones we need to get rid of."

Arabella McKenzie, dressed as a Suffragette complete with parasol, said she felt compelled to "roll out of her grave" and protest with Reclaim to stand up for women's rights.

"Women's right to vote was nothing compared with what women are facing today in Sharia run countries," she said.

"A lot of people say "what culture in Australia are we defending?" but there is a culture here where woman can be free, have rights and are considered equal human beings. That's a good culture to preserve."

An ACT Police spokesman said there were no arrests or issues with the protest.

This is a stark change from last year's rally where police arrested four at the scene, using capsicum spray to defuse ugly clashes that broke out.


PM says border security is paramount despite calls to let asylum seekers stay

PRIME Minister Malcolm Turnbull insists the government will maintain its tough stance on border control despite mounting pressure to stop 267 asylum seekers, including Australian-born children, being shipped back to Nauru.

Last night NSW Premier Mike Baird supported Victoria Premier Daniel Andrews’s call to take in asylum seeker children rather than return them to Nauru after a High Court ruling last week paved the way for them to be sent back. This includes a five-year-old boy who was allegedly raped on the island.

But when asked whether the government would consider looking at individual cases, Mr Turnbull remained resolute on ABC’s Insiders this morning, warning any softening of Australia’s border security policies would open the floodgates for illegal people smugglers.

He pointed to the waves of illegal arrivals that followed former prime minister Kevin Rudd’s decision to close offshore processing on Nauru in 2008.

“I will choose my words carefully because everything I say — everything I say — is being looked at in the finest, most detailed way possible by the people smugglers who will look at any opportunity to get back in the business (when) we got them out of business,” Mr Turnbull said.

“People who seek to come to Australia with people smugglers will not succeed. They will not settle in Australia.

“We are providing every incentive to the people on Nauru to go back to their country of origin. We are providing them with considerable incentives and assistance to do that. We are providing them with incentives to settle in other countries.

“But if we don’t take a firm line, we know what the consequences will be. This is not theoretical.”

When pressed by Insiders host Barrie Cassidy about the Australian-born children faced with deportation, Mr Turnbull acknowledged they were “very delicate issues” but the security of the border was paramount.

“We are dealing with these issues, these very delicate, these anguished issues, with compassion and we’re dealing with them on a case-by-case basis,” Mr Turnbull.

“But what I’m not going to do is give one skerrick of encouragement to those criminals, those people smugglers, who are preying on vulnerable people and seeking to take their money, put them on the high seas in boats … where they will drown.

“There are no policy options available in terms of border protection that are not tough, which cannot be described as harsh, but the one thing we know without any question is that the approach that we took in the Howard era worked, when it was unpicked it was a colossal failure in humanitarian terms, and what we are doing now is working through the caseload we inherited from Labor — there were 2000 children in detention when Rudd lost office, now there’s less than 100 — we’re working through that.

“But the critical thing is to maintain the security of the border.”

Rallies have been held in capital cities around the country calling on the government to allow the asylum seekers to stay after they were brought to Australia for medical treatment.

NSW Opposition Leader Luke Foley has called on the state government this morning to join an offer by Victoria to settle Australian-born refugee children and their families.

Victoria’s Labor Premier Daniel Andrews wrote to Mr Turnbull on Saturday asking him not to send refugee children to a “life of physical and emotional trauma” in offshore detention.

Mr Andrews’ promise that Victoria would provide housing, health, education and welfare services has drawn support from advocacy groups.  “I want these children and their families to call Victoria home,” he wrote.

“Given we stand ready to provide a safe, secure and welcoming environment for these children and their families, there is no justification for their removal.”

Mr Foley said that as Australia’s most populous state, NSW should make a similar offer. He said it was important to remember 37 infants among the group were born in Australia.  “They are being ejected from the country of their birth — the only country they have ever known,” he said.

“Together we should all strive to do better as a nation and we can take an important step forward today.”

Mr Baird praised Mr Andrews as a “good man” and recognised the humanitarian impulse behind his letter. “The same impulse has driven us to work cooperatively with the Commonwealth to resettle an additional intake of refugees in NSW following the recent turmoil in Syria, which is where our focus remains,” he said.

“If the PM has any additional requests for NSW we are prepared to help.”

The Refugee Action Collective has criticised federal Labor for not taking a similar stance.

“Bill Shorten should take note and abandon support for offshore processing and associated cruelty to refugees,” spokesman Chris Breen said.


Some British expat workers going home as Australia's mining boom runs down

As the country's economy adjusts to a new reality following the collapse in commodities, many British expats are considering a move back home

When geologist Chris Nellist was offered a job in Sydney after completing his masters at Leicester, he seized it with both hands. His timing could have been better, however: shortly after arriving in Australia, the financial crash of 2008 hit, and he was made redundant. So Nellist found himself working for a miner in Western Australia, the vast, dusty red expanse that holds much of the country’s mineral wealth. Now events have come full circle, and Nellist is out of work again – only this time, there’s nowhere left for him to go.

“The mining industry is probably in its worst downturn in a century,” Nellist says. “It’s undergoing contraction on a huge scale and it’s not even close to ending.”

Mining has been the driving force of Australia’s economic growth for longer than anyone cares to remember – helping GDP growth average 3.6pc a year for most of this century – but the global collapse in commodity prices has led to a painful readjustment.

Australians have heard the warnings before – but this time, it seems, the boom is truly over. The country is repointing its economy for a new reality, and renegotiating its trading partnership with China and the wider Asia-Pacific. Australia’s mining titans – the likes of BHP Billiton and Rio Tinto, whose shares have led the FTSE 100 lower in the recent market turmoil – have a huge fight on their hands. Meanwhile the migrants who answered their call for workers are considering their options. Will the mining downturn see Britons packing their bags for home?

“There is no doubt that current operating conditions in the mining sector are tough and companies are taking steps to ensure their long-term survival,” says Dr Gavin Lind, of the Minerals Council of Australia. Slowing demand in China – the world’s largest consumer of raw materials, and the buyer of 54pc of Australia’s resources exports in 2015 – has led to dizzying price falls in coal, iron ore, zinc, nickel, copper and bauxite, all minerals mined Down Under.

Instead of cutting production and shoring up the price of their product, miners are taking a counter-intuitive tack, and boosting their output. Closing down mines is an expensive business and companies would rather cling on to their market share than cede ground to their rivals. Yet “the increase in volumes is unlikely to be sufficient to offset the effect of lower commodity prices”, Mark Cully, chief economist at the Department of Industry, Innovation and Science, warned in December. He calculates that Australia’s earnings from mining and energy exports will fall by 4pc to A$166bn (£81bn) this year as lower prices bite.

Giant miners such as Rio and BHP believe their low-cost models will enable them to survive while higher-cost competitors go to the wall. However, in common with their peers in the FTSE 100, they have been punished by investors, with their shares tumbling 44pc and 52pc respectively in the last year. While Rio’s balance sheet is regarded as the stronger of the two, both are under pressure to cut their dividends. Analysts expect Rio to unveil a 37pc slump in operating profits when it reports its full-year results this week. BHP, which announces its half-year results on February 23, is facing a 56pc tumble in profits for the year.

Meanwhile the wider Australian mining industry is stripping out costs and “cutting staff to the bone”, as Nellist puts it. One simple way for miners to save money is to stop exploration work. As a geologist, Nellist was charged with finding new mineral deposits to build up his employer’s resources. He lost his job when his company cancelled this work – a move that is storing up trouble for the future, he argues. “There are many mines in operation that have less than a 10-year mine life. Yet very few are exploring for their next resource.” Spending on exploration fell 32pc in the year to September, hitting its lowest level in more than five years.

While output is growing, the mining industry is shedding employees. At its peak in 2012, the Australian mining sector employed 275,000 people. Since then, it has lost close to 75,000 jobs. Mining may only account for around 2pc of the country’s workforce, but it punches above its weight – not just in terms of its contribution to economic growth, but in what goes into employees’ pockets. Including bonuses, overseas workers in the mines can expect to earn an average of AU$218,600 (£108,000) a year.

In 2011, around 11,000 people of British origin worked in the mines – this included those with leave to remain in the country, and holders of Australia citizenship. A minority were on sponsored visas, imported by the industry to fill particular roles.

“At the peak of Australia’s mining boom we were actively recruiting candidates from all over the world for employers in search of specific skills,” says Chris Kent, regional director of recruitment firm Hays Resources & Mining. “This is no longer the case.” From July to September 2012, there were 1,858 British workers on sponsored visas in the mining sector; in the most recent quarter for which data are available, that had tumbled to 1,002. Sponsored visas across the industry fell by 42pc last September – the steepest drop of any sector.

Miners don’t need to import as many staff from abroad because there are enough qualified locals available, Kent explains. “As a result, employers are able to demand previous local mining experience,” he says. Moreover, most contracts in the mining sector are short-term and for specific projects. “While mining does continue to deliver jobs and economic benefits, it does so at a declining rate than seen at the height of its boom,” says Kent.

Far more Britons on sponsored visas now work in financial services, healthcare, IT and retail, reflecting the fact that the Australian economy is now service driven. Such a shift comes at a cost, however, as service jobs have lower productivity growth than mining jobs. “Australia is losing ground to comparable countries such as the United States and further reforms are needed to boost its productivity levels,” warned Culley last year.

In the face of a tougher jobs market and rising house prices, some expats are naturally considering whether to move back home. The number returning from Australia to the UK hit 18,000 in 2013, the highest level since 2001. Not all are returning because of the end of the mining boom. “It was always really hard to find work in the mines anyway and only a few did – those that happened to be in that type of geologist occupation,” as one expat points out. Still others cite homesickness and even bad Australian TV for wanting to come home. Yet the signs are that life in the sun is no longer the one-way ticket it once was.

“We’ve seen a 40pc increase year-on-year in inquiries for people wanting to leave Australia and return home. UK and Ireland dominates this return traffic,” says Ben Tyrrell, head of relocation firm MoveHub, which carries out 200,000 house moves globally each year. “Going to Australia, we did about 8,000 moves; traffic the return way is tracking at broadly similar numbers.” For Eimear McGlinchey Beattie, founder of the Irish Families in Perth association, the warning signs came when people started putting their cars and household items up for sale. “The dynamics have certainly changed in the last 12-15 months,” she says. Many Irish people are seeking job opportunities in Canada, New Zealand and London. “Australia and especially Western Australia gave them the promise of great job opportunities and high salaries. The slump in the mining industry has basically put an end to much of this.”

The extent of the mining slump, and its duration, remains hotly debated. “The temptation in some quarters [is] to downplay mining’s contribution to Australia’s current and future growth prospects,” says John Kunkel of the Minerals Council of Australia, pointing out that the industry contributed almost half of Australia’s 0.9pc GDP growth in the quarter to September. Rio Tinto boss Sam Walsh was equally bullish at the company’s last results presentation in October. “Low commodity prices make it easy for pundits to tell sorrowful stories about our sector,” he said.

Australia’s GDP is still forecast to grow by 2.5pc this year, extending 24 years of growth – but this is a full percentage point below the 20-year average. The economy is in a “state of transition”, according to Cully, and “must now look to other sources of growth” to replace the shortfall in mining investment.

Australia is pulling other levers to ensure its growth: a free-trade pact with China came into force in December, under which 85pc of its exports will enter the country duty- free; it has similar deals with Japan and South Korea and it signed the Trans Pacific Partnership last week – all designed to boost its services sector.

Such moves are scant consolation for those laid off in the mining sector. Chris Nellist, who last month defaulted on his mortgage, is now desperately hunting for jobs in the UK. “Even if I don’t find something, we are likely to have to move back eventually as the bank system here is fairly harsh and we are likely to lose the house in the next 80 days,” he says. “In hindsight, moving to Australia was a huge mistake for us and has been a financial disaster.”


Non-religious ethics classes growing in NSW schools

NSW school children are facing unprecedented hurdles to get into ethics classes in schools, the state's provider of ethics classes has warned.

For the first time this year parents of kindergarten students do not have to be informed of the availability of ethics classes by the school principals until after they have been through at least four different steps.

"It is a deliberately difficult process for a parent to access ethics classes and give students an alternative to developing their critical thinking and moral reasoning," said Mr Hogan.

Despite the hurdles, Mr Hogan said the classes had continued to grow in popularity throughout the state.

The classes received some high-profile backing last year when the Dalai Lama spoke out in support of their inclusions in NSW schools as a way of keeping people who did not engage with religion on a moral path.

"We will start in 400 schools this year," Mr Hogan said. "In the end, parents always win when it comes to their children's best interest."

Marrickville mother Theona Bustos said that despite being Catholic she still wanted her five-year-old son Xavier to enroll in an ethics class at Wilkins Primary School.  "If I want my children to have a religious education, I don't want it to happen at school, we can go to Sunday mass for that," she said.

A spokesman for the NSW Department of Education said that as not all NSW public schools offer ethics classes, it is up to schools to provide parents with the options at their school. Some schools openly advise parents of the availability of ethics classes.

Last year, NSW Premier Mike Baird denied the removal of ethics classes from enrolment forms was part of a deal with Christian Democrat MP Fred Nile to secure the passage of legislation through the NSW upper house.

The changes to the enrolment form were rushed through the Department of Education after the Premier was lobbied by faith groups, documents obtained under Freedom of Information laws showed.

The government's recommendations were in line with those of an upper house inquiry into ethics classes chaired by Mr Nile in 2012.

A spokesman for the Catholic Conference of Religious Educators in State Schools said: "Special ethics education is not an enemy or a threat to special religious education and the volunteer teachers in both groups are offering valid and valuable choices for parents for education in faith and ethics."


Liquid gold rush beckons for Australian honey producers as research identifies best antimicrobial nectar

Australian honey producers are set to tap into a potential billion-dollar global market for medicinal honey, with new research confirming powerful antimicrobial properties in the flowering nectar of trees found across Australia.

The joint study by three Australian universities is testing up to 86 different species of Leptospermum, 10 times more than are found across the Tasman, where the trees are the basis of New Zealand's burgeoning manuka honey industry.

That country's biggest honey producer, Comvita, is negotiating with Australia's top producer, Capilano, to help it keep up with runaway demand for its products.

Comvita chief technical officer Ralf Schlothauer said huge demand in Asia for manuka honey as a culinary product was making it hard for the company to satisfy its $100-million annual market for medical grade honey, bandages and dressings.

"Right now the culinary price on very pure manuka honey is becoming so high it makes it very difficult to make a commercial decision to dedicate that honey to the medical use," Dr Schlothauer said.

Capilano general manager Ben McKee said even without the Comvita deal, growing demand for manuka honey, traditionally known as jelly bush in Australia, was helping raise the farm gate price for all honey producers.

For a small number of bee keepers already producing manuka honey, the profits are spectacular.

"Bee keepers don't have to produce a lot of this honey to get a really good financial return," Mr McKee said.

"If they have access to this it can really turn their business from just running along to a really large business.

"Some of the bee keepers, we've paid over $1 million just in one payment because of the amount of manuka honey, so it's a real game changer for some bee keepers."
Manuka could help in fight against antibiotic-resistant superbugs

The field research on Australian Leptospermum trees is being conducted by Simon Williams as part of a chemistry doctorate with the Sunshine Coast University.

He said the trees were found in every state but their level of potential antimicrobial activity varied.  "We're sampling the source, the flower, to determine activity in the trees but it's still going to come down to mother nature to determine whether or not there'll be any nectar produced," Mr Williams said.

"In some states like South Australia and Victoria, it's a little bit dry so they don't always have a good flowering year every year."

University of Technology, Sydney, is leading the Australian research project and according to principal investigator Professor Liz Harry the growing threat of antibiotic-resistant superbugs has put a fresh focus on manuka honey

"While drugs can be very useful at times, honey is a really good topical agent that bacteria don't become resistant to," Professor Harry said.

"Over many millions of years of bees making honey it's the only food that can't be spoiled, so nature has provided this solution for us that we stopped using because of antibiotics.

"Now that antibiotics are losing their power we need to look at other solutions and I think honey is a fantastic one."

The Australian study, jointly funded by government and industry, is also investigating a range of other medicinal properties in jelly bush honey.

"Honey also has other properties, like healing properties and anti-inflammatory properties, so what we're interested in is whether some of these honeys may do better at the anti-inflammatory and other honeys may be better at antibacterial, or perhaps there's a few honeys that are best at all three of those activities," Professor Harry said.


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